Black Panther will become the first film screened publicly in Saudi Arabia for 35 years today, as the country’s first cinema since 1983 opens in Riyadh.
The cinema will be the first of 40 to open throughout Saudi Arabia over the next five years. The reintroduction of public cinemas constitutes a key social reform of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 project.
While public cinemas will provide an economic boon for Saudi Arabia—movie screenings could attract some $1 billion in ticket sales a year—they could also provide a fresh source of tension with the clergy. Indeed, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Sheikh has opposed the reopening, labelling theatres a “depravity” last year.
The Al Saud family has traditionally depended on the clergy for Islamic legitimacy, but Vision 2030 could see Saudi Arabia’s influential clerics marginalised. Alternatively, the crown prince could risk a political schism within the Kingdom by going too hard against the religious establishment.
Delve deeper: Saudi power purge: removing obstacles to Vision 2030
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Alex is a senior analyst in the Current Developments team with a primary focus on the Americas. He also serves as an editor on The Daily Brief.